Why is the Mass a sacrifice?

Please forgive my ignorance, because I should really know the answer to this.

I fully believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation and that in the Holy Eucharist we receive the Body,Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. What makes me uncomfortable is the sacrifice part. Jesus asked us to ‘Do this in memory of Me’ and we do, and also I know that unless we eat His Body and drink His Blood we shall have no life in us. But why does this make it a sacrifice? I thought that Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross for our redemption was a one-of-a-kind-once-only event, for example:

Unlike the Levite priests who had to offer sacrifices again and again, Jesus Christ is the only high priest who is “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens”. Paul explained that “unlike other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” (Hebrews 7:26-28)“we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)

With Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, God the Father said: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
Paul explained that once our sins are forgiven, “there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” (Hebrews 10:18)

The sacrifice has been made once for all. No other sacrifice can or will be made. It is all-sufficient for all sin for all mankind forever, if we accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

Now all this I understand. What I don’t understand is why the Mass is a sacrifice, when Jesus has already made the one and only sacrifice.

Hebrews 10:12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.
Hebrews 7:27 …this he did once, when he offered up himself.

Hebrews 9:28 …Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many…

Hebrews 10:10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:14 For by** one offering** he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

So why do we say that celebrating the Eucharist is a sacrifice?

I recommend reading this section from the Catechism:

CCC 1356-1381

It says (among other things):

**1366 **The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it *re-presents *(makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit:

[INDENT][Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper “on the night when he was betrayed,” [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit. [189]

[189] Council of Trent (1562): DS 1740; cf. 1 Cor 11:23; Heb 7:24, 27.[/INDENT]

the post above mine explains perfectly but to put it in one sentence

we participate in the one eternal sacrifice of Christ.

There’s quite a bit of research for you to do , Zeno, and, alas, there’s no getting away from it!

The Mass is the very same sacrifice as on Calvery. To understand this you need to study the theology of ‘anamnesis’, as understood by 1st century jews in relation to the passover meal, which understanding is part of the apostolic tradition we still follow.

Protestants, especially more recent sects, have departed from this tradition, and are not able to interpret Scripture correctly because of that.

Anamnesis, as a starter, is that which makes present here and now that which was. It is an existential realisation of a past event, so that the Church, from the rising of the sun to its setting, can offer the holy oblation that alone can be pleasing to God.

Easy, eh? :slight_smile:

seriously, start slowly, take your time, and prepare to enjoy the journey!

Thank you for the guidance. It was a protestant friend who accused me as a Catholic of committing ‘blasphemy’ by saying Jesus was sacrificed at every Mass when His sacrifice was once and for all time. As I am understanding what you are saying, it is not that we are crucifying Jesus again, but that we are going back to the moment when he was crucified?

Jesus doesn’t die again-- but his death is present again, if that makes sense?

From the Council of Trent:


And inasmuch as in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the mass is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner the same Christ who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross, the holy council teaches that this is truly propitiatory and has this effect, that if we, contrite and penitent, with sincere heart and upright faith, with fear and reverence, draw nigh to God, [10] For, appeased by this sacrifice, the Lord grants the grace and gift of penitence and pardons even the gravest crimes and sins. For the victim is one and the same, the same now offering by the ministry of priests who then offered Himself on the cross, the manner alone of offering being different. The fruits of that bloody sacrifice, it is well understood, are received most abundantly through this unbloody one, so far is the latter from derogating in any way from the former. Wherefore, according to the tradition of the Apostles,[11] it is rightly offered not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those departed in Christ but not yet fully purified.

So here, the Council’s saying the sacrifice is the same-- it’s just the manner of offering that has changed (bloody vs. unbloody).

Also some interesting points raised here and here.

Think of it as a priceless red string being sewn through cloth. It had a “start” (the obvious knot of the Last Supper, where the Eucharist was transubstantiated for the first time), but then ducks under and over the cloth in and out of sight until the apparent “end” (Final Judgment) appears. But it is really one unbroken sacrifice, weaving though-out time and Eternity. :slight_smile:

Not my best explanation, but hope it helps.

God is “eternal,” i.e., exists outside of time. For God, all moments are experienced simultaneously and without end. This includes His agony.

In the Mass, the priest elevates the congregation to this moment of sacrifice, lifting us up and outside of time and making it present to us, along with all the graces it bestows. It is, in a sense, an *appropriation *of those graces for our benefit – as if the priest were drawing water from a vast spiritual well and bringing it back for us. Or it may be that it involves bringing that moment of sacrifice down to our level, I don’t know the sacramentology of it that well.

Almost, Zeno. Almost. What we are actually doing is not going back, but bringing the past to here. Crossing time & space to experience the death of Jesus NOW! This isn a wonderful thing.

You are right - Jesus’ sacrifice was once & for all. So, clearly, for the beneficial effects to be present since then, they - the effects - must be able to cross time & space: they are of cosmic significance. Even a protestant must acknowledge that, or else how can he benefit from the Crucifixion?

Now, when Jesus said “do this in memory of me” He wasn’t just talking to His immediate followers, but to His Church throughout all ages, which is why, decades after He spoke the words they were written into scripture, to provide witness to the traditrion of the apostles. That the Last Supper & the crucificion are intimately linked is not doubted by any but the ignorant - even Calvin & Luther recognised this.

So the mass is our participation in the Last Supper while also our witnessing the death of Jesus on the Cross, which also anticipates the futher kingdom of our union with each other in Christ. It’s a Resurrection experience!

Well, I have been doing my research and was beginning to think I had begun to get my head round it, when in the course of my research, I found these facts:

  1. It was during the reign of Pope Gregory IV (827-844) that a dogma called ‘transubstantiation’ first appeared in Christian history.
    This is a long, long time after the apostles!

  2. Paschasius Radbert (785-860), a mentally unstable French monk, was the father of the concept which ‘he hatched in a depressed state in his melancholy cell’ (Edgar’s Variations of Popery, p. 369, Second Edition, 1838).

  3. Pope Gregory IV attacked it with peculiar vehemence and fury, and in two councils, one at Rome and the other at Vercelli, ***had the doctrine solemnly condemned ***and the notes of Paschasius Radbert, from which it was drawn, committed to the flames.

Now I’m getting really confused. How can one Pope teach a differing dogma than another Pope?

  1. The Council of Paris (c. 829) which was summoned by King Egbert (d. 839) where delegates refuted the doctrine with all their might. the Pope called adherents of the practice ‘cannibals’ and they were menaced with all sorts of evils, both spiritual and temporal. These threats were executed, and the adherents were deprived of their revenues. ‘An insurrection ensued, and in order to quell it, the*** Pope was obliged to put several persons to death***’ (Catholic Encyclopedia, Pecci Ed., Vol., ii, p. 429).

This seems pretty clear cut, that the Catholic church did not believe in transubstantiation to the extent that the Pope had those who argued for it killed.

  1. In 844, Charles the Bald (823-877), the Holy Roman Emperor, fiercely condemned the Mass, saying; ‘It was contrived by the insane for the insane’.

  2. In the year 1054, two separate councils assembled at Tours to examine the doctrine. One was attended by Hildebrand of Soana (b. c. 1020 - d. 1085), then papal legate and afterwards pontiff under the title of Gregory VII (Pope 1073-85). He opposed the doctrine with the utmost intensity, calling it ‘a portentous monster … a nonsensical deformity and an impudent insult upon the very first principles of reason’

  3. The doctrine of the transmutation of the wafer was officially certified at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) - this is a century and a half after Jesus walked the earth!

I am so very confused I wish I had never began researching this topic. If the church did not accept transubstantiation for a century and a half, and many Popes described it in the terms outlined above, what on earth is going on?

What was the Last Supper? Was it a meal? Our Lord says at the Last Supper offers Himself. “And taking bread, he gave thanks, and brake; and gave to them, saying: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this for a commemoration of me.” The Last Supper is NOT an ordinary meal. It’s purpose is not an Irish wake, but an offering of Christ to God for us. The purpose of the Last Supper was not for a memory, but an offering substantially related to the Sacrifice on the Cross Our Lord would endure. If it were only about memory and fellowship, would not Our Lord have had the Last Supper prior to ascending into Heaven?

Mass takes its form from the Last Supper, but is not a representation of the Last Supper but of Calvary? Why? As I’ve said above, the Last Supper in itself was an offering (Sacrifice) substantially bound to Calvary; you can’t have it without Calvary. The problem is Protestants do not see the Last Supper as a Sacrifice in itself.

Per the book of Hebrews, there is nothing we can offer to God to merit us anything since the Cross. Christ’s Sacrifice surpasses all else. So what would it merit us to offer simple bread and wine to God every Sunday? Nothing. The priest offers not bread and wine but the Body and Blood of Christ, which is the only Offering pleasing to God. If Mass is not a Sacrifice, then why do we have the Eucharist at all? Why would Christ change bread and wine into Himself if not for an offering? The purpose of the Eucharist then becomes for Christ to be in us and for us to be in Communion, but the Last Supper does not point to this at all. It points to offering.

Hebrews 7:24-25 "But this, for that he continueth for ever, hath an everlasting priesthood, whereby he is able also to save for ever them that come to God by him; always living to make intercession for us.

In this context, intercession is said in the light of an everlasting priesthood. As a priest, which intercession (Sacrifice) would this be? Calvary. But then how would Christ be always making priestly intercession for us? Calvary, though done once in time, must then be a continual and everlasting Sacrifice, completely outside the restrictions of time. As the footnote in the DRV says, “Christ, as man, continually maketh intercession for us, by representing his passion to his Father.” Mass itself is a representation (as in re-presentation) of the passion.

Then why was it not an accepted dogma for 1500 years?

First of all, Popes have been contradicting each other since the beginning of the Church. This is especially true of the Popes in the 1900s. They aren’t infallible always.

Transubstantiation is a philosophical term. All it means is this: before we can call this item bread, but not it has been substantially changed to the extent that it is not bread any longer, but is Christ. It is a technical term given to a very simple concept. Many people have opposed it because they have their own opinions on the nature of Christ in the Eucharist, NONE of which were ever approved by the Church. So, the concept of consubstantiation, or even lack of any presence, would at best equally foreign to the entire Church. However, the term transubstantiation was chosen because it best explains the mystery and sets aside any false beliefs. It only became dogma because people denied Christ’s full presence in the Eucharist, thus it is not made dogma at the time of the Apostles because there wasn’t widespread confusion over the concept. Though they choose not to use the word transubstantiation, the Eastern Orthodox accept the same teaching, even after being informally (700s) and later formally (1054+) separated from Rome. This says something.

Here are a few words of Pope Gregory VII:

“I believe in my heart and openly profess that the bread and wine that are placed on the altar are, through the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of the Redeemer, substantially changed into the true and proper and lifegiving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that after the consecration they are the true body of Christ.”

Mind you, he imposed these words onto a heretic.

I don’t know where you are getting your info, but it is looking suspect.

Traditionally the Church has operated with brief and concise teaching. If it does not need to be said, then why say it. If the belief is universally held, then there is no need to write it down as dogma.

EDIT. This is why so much came out of the Council of Trent. There was revolt in Europe, and the faith had to drastically be clarified, not changed or invented. Thus, Protestants will say the Council of Trent is an invention of the 1500s, that prior to the Council Mass wasn’t a Sacrifice, transubstantiation was not part of the faith, etc. This is simply nonsense and is not historically true. The same applies to the Summa Theologiae. Many claim St. Thomas invented the teachings in it, but in reality what is said in the Summa is only what was said throughout the Church at the time, and was simply compiled and expounded upon by St. Thomas.

It took over 1900 years for the role of the Church in the world to be formally declared. Yet prior to this, was there any ambiguity over this role? No. The Church does not invent dogma, but only states what has always been the true belief.

Well, your explanation would make sense if it were not for the fact that those Popes quoted obviously did NOT accept transubstantiation so how could it have been a universally held belief? (See my post 13).

Honestly, I wish I had never started researching why the Mass was a sacrifice, and I wouldn’t be feeling as utterly lost and confused as I am now. And it is not Protestant sources which are giving me my information, but catholic, and scholarly, and historical sources. I don’t understand how a Pope can be infallible on a doctrine that a previous Pope deemed (infallibly) to be wrong. I don’t know what to believe any more. I had assumed that transubstantiation had come to us from the Last Supper, not as a doctrine from men 1500 years later.:bighanky:

You are quoting from ‘The Criminal History of the Catholic Church’, NOT a Catholic, scholarly or historical source.

As Pope, Gregory VII summoned to Rome one Berengarius of Tours, who had denied the truth of Transubstantiation, and had him make the following statement to a council held at St. John Lateran:
“I, Berengarius, in my heart believe, and with my lips confess that through the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of our Redeemer the bread and wine which are placed on the altar are subsequently changed into the true and proper and living flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and that after consecration it is the true body of Christ which was born of the Virgin and which, offered for the salvation of the world, was suspended on the Cross, and which sitteth at the right hand of the Father, and the true blood of Christ, which was poured out from His side not only through the sign and power of the sacrament, but in its property of nature, and in truth of substance, as here briefly in a few words is contained and I have read and you understand. Thus I believe, nor will I teach contrary to this belief. So help me God and these holy Gospels of God.” [sources: [URL=“http://www.victorclaveau.com/htm_html/Bulletin%20Inserts/eucharist_denied.htm”]1, 2]

Your source of information completely misrepresents the teaching of Pope Gregory VII.


It is true that the doctrine of our Lord’s True Presence was defended by the Council of Trent, but this was not a new teaching. More than 1000 years earlier, in a homily on the Epistle to the Hebrews, St. John Chrysostom declared:
“What then? Do we not offer daily? Yes, we offer, but making remembrance of his death; and this remembrance is one and not many. How is it one and not many? Because this sacrifice is offered once, like that in the Holy of Holies. This sacrifice is a type of that, and this remembrance a type of that. We offer always the same, not one sheep now and another tomorrow, but the same thing always. Thus there is one sacrifice. By this reasoning, since the sacrifice is offered everywhere, are there, then, a multiplicity of Christs? By no means! Christ is one everywhere. He is complete here, complete there, one body. And just as he is one body and not many though offered everywhere, so too is there one sacrifice.”

The only Council of Vercelli I’ve heard of supported orthodox teaching about the Eucharist. It is mentioned here:

I’m out of time, but I can tell you that if an author is fulminating against “popery”, he is not a Catholic author. Please check your sources!

Hi everyone,
Thank you all for your responses, I did get into a bit of a panic and although I am still quite confused, I’m also relieved that the web link i was sent by a friend is not what I thought it was! Thank you for taking the time to put me straight.
God Bless all

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